We’re Bigger Than This.

Flag USA July 4 Celebration Indendence Day ConceptYes, it was inevitable. Post-election fallout has forced everything else that populates my peculiar mind to take a number.  Actually, I suspect every everyone in the US has PLENTY of thoughts to share right now but these are my two cents — so, fasten your seatbelt!

No one escaped the stress and strain of a seemingly endless campaign that often defied description. Regardless of which side of the aisle you sat, the seats have been horribly uncomfortable. Constant rhetoric irritated tempers and eardrums. Hats were promotional party favors. The issues, candidates and constant rallies neatly sliced up this country and escape to Canada became a handy exit strategy.

Election night saw a fair amount of hand wringing, nail-biting and yelling at the TV. In the end, like white smoke from the Vatican chimney, the results were in – there was a winner. Some were thrilled; others not so much to put it mildly. Whether joy or anguish, there was certainly no lack of emotion on either side and some have not recovered. The dark horse won, not by popular vote, but by something most people only heard in high school history class – Electoral College. Social media was on fire, the airwaves were filled with ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ and everyone was shell-shocked with either happiness or devastation.

Who I voted for and how I felt about the outcome doesn’t matter. I have plenty of company either way. But one thing seems clear. The real election results evidenced the tragic birth of us’ — and ‘them’. Yes, I realize that our treasured ‘melting pot’ has been melting, in many ways, for years beneath the surface of our indifference and complacency. It just took the proverbial last straw of this year’s vitriolic, inflammatory campaign rhetoric for the pressure cooker to explode – and explode it did. Wedges have been jammed between white people and people of color, LGBT and religious fundamentalists, liberal vs. conservative, urban vs. rural, educated vs. uneducated and — men vs. women. We’ve heard the most inflammatory statements. Racial harassment is rampant. A canyon has opened up and we are all in danger of falling into the abyss. No matter which camp you’re in, to say it all pretty much sucks is a mammoth understatement.

We can (and do) yell back at the pundits on the screen, but can’t and shouldn’t at those across our dinner table, or office desk. Social media, which once showcased oddly appetizing pictures of last night’s dinner, funny cat videos or always precious grandchildren suddenly abounded with insidious claims and scam news. Those on one side sincerely ask why others are afraid; people on the other ask how can they not be?

I’ve never been exactly politically oriented, and I say that not with pride – just fact. I was a robotic voter all my life, flipping the designated buttons of my family’s staunch political persuasion in a neat row. I never thought or asked why they believed as they did; I’m not sure they even knew. So it came as a surprise to me that it was my granddaughter who finally changed my Stepford way of thinking during the last presidential election four years ago. It was her very first vote and she took it seriously, doing her homework on the candidates, and asking questions. In doing so, she unwittingly shamed me, at long last, into thinking for myself. Imagine.

This year was difficult enough without a messy election. I did more than enough soul searching since my husband died a year ago and this election took whatever I had left to spare. While still navigating my first widowed year, I listened, read, questioned and watched more real news than I ever imagined I would. I became riveted to the latest campaign reports and struggled to tease out the facts from aliens-are-coming faux ‘news’ that was shared with abandon. Still, I’m obviously a babe in the proverbial political woods with much to learn and plenty to wonder about, like how, in this immense country of ours, we can still act ‘small’? With room for all, we latch like lemmings onto fear of the ‘other’ becoming shockingly vulnerable to the scorpion bite of racism, sexism and unleashed hatred. Like Old Faithful, where hot springs were kept confined, those emotions suddenly bubbled up in enormous outbursts of an outlying hurricane’s rallying cries. I can’t figure out why so many believe that ‘great again’ was ever that great in the first place. I’m old enough to remember and to have heard stories from parents and grandparents of times and decades were not so great at all. There was always good and bad in equal amounts making me wonder what decade of ‘great’ we yearn for. Was it when being gay meant hiding in fear of intolerant abuse? When a woman’s place was only the kitchen? When people of color had to use other bathrooms, another bus, another neighborhood? Why do we have the right to ‘take America back’ when, in truth, it was never ours in the first place. We were the pilgrim ‘immigrants’ who stole it. Under the auspices of seeking tolerance, peace and harmony, we neatly removed only people who had an authentic claim of ownership.

I guess what I do understand is that America isn’t the president, or the government. It’s the people – all 325 plus million of us and like it or not, we sink or swim together. Half of ‘us’ has felt disenfranchised, ignored, on the fringes of sight or care. We are fearful of each other and, maybe lately, even of ourselves. We want badly to believe we are a country that exemplifies all it was born to grow – decency, fairness, compromise. Yet, Muslims, immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, gays, Asians, women, people with disabilities are all part of a world that’s not always defined with those attributes. At the bottom of all that is negative is fear and right now I fear for us all.

No matter how I felt election night or the next day, nothing could have the power to upset, shock, transform me or cause profound grief more than what happened a year ago when my husband died. That was my apocalypse and nothing else could ever come close. Still, there is room, especially as I finally start to breathe, for reflection, and realization that if we can survive death, we might be able to survive life. Maybe it’s possible to even THRIVE in our homeland’s ‘after’. Having grieved what might have been, and the future we’ll never have with the one we loved, political fears, nor matter how serious or real, are only blips on the radar of life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t rant plenty within circles of friends or to the silent four walls of my house. It doesn’t mean all the feelings and fears that make me want to scream disappear in the ethernet. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a temptation to sleep through these next four years. And it definitely doesn’t mean I morphed into a resigned, zombie who gave up thinking for herself.

Conversations with my husband are now only one-sided. They shouldn’t be with people around us. We may not be able to change Congress, calm an entire country’s fears or make earthshaking transformations but we can change our own thought, minds and even behavior, if only in little ways. Just as so many surrounded us with comfort and support when we were drowning in grief, not knowing how we’d ever find our way again, we can be that for others. We can make sure everyone knows they are welcome at the table. Maybe ‘change’ means reaching out, really listening to a different viewpoint with an open mind or even saying a sincere ‘hello’ to those who were once invisible to our eyes.

Do I believe everything espoused by the party I voted for? Nope. For me, it was the horrific rhetoric of the opposite party I couldn’t get past. The words and attitudes were so outrageous and hateful, they blocked anything that might have drawn me to the political stance behind them. No matter who voted for whom, however, everyone voted with passion or, as the statistics noted, a full 46% didn’t vote at all. Most who did had real, heartfelt reasons which pointed them in the direction they chose – loss of jobs, skyrocketing health costs, poverty, abandonment. Many lost faith in Washington and wanted someone to “shake things up”. Marginalized people can be so desperate to be heard, they care less about the messenger who promises to deliver them, than the actual person behind them. For those who are desperate, the smoke that chokes their lives doesn’t allow them to see the mirrors behind it.

There is no quick fix, no snake oil elixir for the deep layers of pain, greed or ignorance that’s proliferated for so many years unchecked in politics and the corporate world. Whether we liked or trusted what we heard and saw, others did and it’s what we do now, how we view the worth of all people that counts. It’s not about a candidate, especially if that person espoused everything you could not abide. It’s about figuring out where to go from here in a forward-thinking, inclusive and caring way to our fellow citizens.

This election was a lightening rod between family, friends, fellow office workers, everyone we come in contact with. Yet, after all the votes are counted, no matter which way the political pendulum swung or how deeply we are upset by the results, we need to love and respect every one as we did before, probably more. Why? Because no matter which party our fingers clicked behind the voting booth curtain, we all voted for what we hoped would bring a better future for our families and us. Because they and we are the same people we were before this divisive campaign year; the same people who argue about silly things at the Thanksgiving table. This is not a silly year in any way but humor does go a long way in times like this. And so do words, the good ones, the ones that heal and create an invitation to communication and understanding. These words from the Lion King say it better than all of mine and illustrate why I’m such a lyrics freak.

“And the only thing we know

Is things don’t always go

The way we planned

But you’ll see every day

That we’ll never turn away

When it seems all your dreams come undone

We will stand by your side

Filled with hope and filled with pride

We are more than we are

We are one

All the wisdom to lead

All the courage that you need

You will find when you see

We are one”

As people who’ve lost what we can’t ever get back through death, I have hope we can recover from this. And hope is probably the operative word going forward. We all love this country and America’s been through a heck of a lot these past 240 years – wars, slavery, many momentous events we felt pride and shame. But we are still here albeit with ugly wounds, lots of blame, tension, and uncertainty. We have no crystal ball; no way to foretell if the dice we rolled will reap years of prosperity or recession, peace or more war. And there’s no magic wand to make things ‘fair’ or perfect.

All we can change — is ourselves.

 

Question:

What words would you put on YOUR hat?

 

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